The most important question to ask yourself

self care self-focus Dec 17, 2021

You’re probably used to thinking about how you are, but do you ever wonder where you are?   

Of course, at midlife this could mean anything:

Hormones?   - in ignorance / peri / WTF?? / post menopausal??

Dress size?   - this shop no longer fits me / is this a wardrobe or a dressing up box? / straddled between ‘do  I look too old in this?’ and ‘do I look too young in this?’

Wine aisle?   - why is there no calorie free wine? / where is the menopause  hangover-free wine? / where are the emergency intravenous drip bags full of G&T?

Or it could mean in relation to where you are in life in general:

Arrived?   - but where is the Welcome cocktail and relaxing towel robe? / lost and no idea how to get found? / stuck in the mire of midlife?

On the way? - hiking boots laced up, map in hand? / can’t see the wood for the trees? / lost my compass and emergency bar of chocolate?

And as a coach, it’s a question I often ask the women I work with, because, only by knowing where you are, can you decide where to go.

Yet here is a much more important place to ask this question. In your mind.

I always encourage my clients to try and get off autopilot and live more consciously, with intention towards a life they have actively designed.  Culturally we are also presently swimming in guidance on staying present. But what does that really mean?  We can’t be meditating every minute of the day.  There are far too many lists to be ticking off and plates to be spinning for that.

So to explain it better, I’ll borrow on Diana Chapman’s (Conscious Leadership) idea of a line in your mind, and give you tips on how to ask yourself regularly where you are on it.

Imagine a line in your mind

Above the line you are connected to yourself, you are able to respond with real purpose and intention. You are present, responsible, challenging your beliefs and thoughts and asking - are they really true, and are there better thoughts I can have that will serve me better?  You are curious about how you are thinking and behaving, and driven by your own internal compass.

Below the line, you are on autopilot. You think you are thinking, but you are unconsciously thinking, reacting from old patterns and stale stories that keep you safe. You are constantly reacting by fear-driven behaviours, driven by external demands and expectations.

It’s easy to sit below the line for huge swathes of time. But if you catch yourself and ask regular where am I? You can change the way you think and behave.

You are running the day, rather than the day running you.

You are in charge of your responses to people and triggers, rather than be charged by them.

You are acting in your best interests rather than sabotaging yourself.

Let me give you an example. Recently, I was irritated and in the middle of sending a snarky text to my children’s dad. I was on my morning dog walk, and was so engrossed in the drama of the moment, I’d already missed most of that experience. Suddenly a notification came on my phone. Are you above the line? (I use an app called MindJogger to send me questions throughout my day to encourage me to check in, and if you want to learn more, check out my habit hacking blog).

I realised I was very much below the line. I was in reactive mode, not thinking of the bigger picture, not being guided by my longer term ambitions for this relationship, and triggered into old patterns of defensiveness.

I was also not being present on my morning walk, ignoring the trees and scenery which gives me such a lift first thing in the mornings.

I put my phone away, continued on my walk and allowed myself to process the anger but also put everything in perspective.  Later, at home, when I was sure I was above the line, I replied to the text in a calm, responsible manner that appreciated his view point, explained how I felt, and came up with a solution that worked for us both.

I was lucky I was caught in that moment by the notification because so much depends on that relationship working well. But I also catch myself more and more when I feel my body react to something - panic, annoyance, guilt, or shame. I check in and ask myself Where am I?  And if I am below the line, I try not to react. I try to find a way to pause, a way to process the feelings so that I can respond, consciously and with intent, above the line.

When we are below the line we tend to play out in what's known as the Karpman's Drama Triangle.  Here you are either caught up in being:

A victim - poor me

A Persecutor - it's everyone and everything else's fault

A Rescuer - you do everything for someone to get their validation (and resent them for not thanking you).

I can see myself in all of those!

But when you are above the line, you can change those rolls.

The Victim becomes the Creator - (what can I do about this?)

The Persecutor becomes the Challenger (less blame and more encouragement)

The Rescuer becomes the Coach (empowering not disempowering)

Checking in to ask Where am I has been a game changer for me.

The writer Anaïs Nin, wisely wrote, “we don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”

And that depends very much on where we are - above or below the line.

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